Lectures on the Proofs of the Existence of God/Lecture 1

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These Lectures are devoted to the consideration of the proofs of the existence of God. The occasion for them is this. I had at first to make up my mind to give only one set of lectures in this summer session on philosophical knowledge as a whole, and then afterwards I felt I would like to add a second set on at least one separate subject of knowledge. I have therefore chosen a subject which is connected with the other set of lectures which I gave on logic, and constitutes, not in substance, but in form, a kind of supplement to that set, inasmuch as it is concerned with only a particular aspect of the fundamental conceptions of logic. These lectures are therefore chiefly meant for those of my hearers who were present at the others, and to them they will be most easily intelligible.

But inasmuch as the task we have set ourselves is to consider the proofs of the existence of God, it would appear as if only one aspect of the matter belongs to the subject of logic, namely, the nature of proof. The other, again, the content, which is God Himself, belongs to a different sphere, that of religion, and to the consideration of it by thought, to the philosophy of religion. In point of fact, it is a portion of this branch of knowledge which has to be set apart and treated by itself in these lectures. In what follows it will more clearly be seen what relation this part bears to the entirety of the doctrine of religion; and further, that this doctrine in so far as it is scientific, and what belongs to the sphere of logic, do not fall outside one another to the extent that would appear from the first statement of our aim, and that what is logical does 155 not constitute the merely formal side, but, in fact, occupies the very centre point of the content.

The first thing we encounter when we seek to make a beginning with the execution of our design is the general, and, so far as this design is concerned, repugnant, point of view of the prepossessions of present-day culture. If the object, God, is in itself capable of producing exaltation of mind by its very name, and of stirring our soul to its innermost depths, our lofty expectation may just as quickly die away when we reflect that it is the proofs of the existence of God with which we are about to concern ourselves. For the proofs of the existence of God are to such an extent fallen into discredit that they pass for something antiquated, belonging to the metaphysics of days gone by; a barren desert, out of which we have escaped and brought ourselves back to a living faith; the region of arid Understanding, out of which we have once more raised ourselves to the warm feeling of religion. The attempt to renovate, by means of new applications and artifices of an acute Understanding, those rotten props of our belief that there is a God, which have passed for proofs, or to improve the places which have become weak through attacks and counter-proofs, could of itself gain no favour merely by its good intention. For it is not this or that proof, or this or that form and way of putting it, that has lost its weight, but the very proving of religious truth has so much lost credit with the mode of thought peculiar to our time that the impossibility of such proof is already a generally accepted opinion. Nay more, it has come to be regarded as irreligious to place confidence in such reasoned knowledge, and to seek by such a path to reach a sure conviction regarding God and His nature, or even regarding His mere existence. This business of proof, therefore, is so much out of date, that the proofs themselves are barely even historically known here and there; and even to theologians, that is to say, people who desire to have a scientific acquaintance with religious truths, they are sometimes unknown.

The proofs of the existence of God have originated in the necessity of satisfying thought and reason. But this necessity has assumed, in modern culture, quite a different position from that which it had formerly, and those points of view must first of all be considered which have presented themselves in this reference. Yet since they are known in their general aspects, and this is not the place to follow them back to their foundations, we need only recall them, and, in fact, limit ourselves to the form which they assume within the sphere of Christianity. It is in this region that the conflict between faith and reason in Man himself first finds a basis, and that doubt enters his soul, and can reach the fearful height of depriving him of all peace. Thought must indeed touch the earlier religions of imagination, as we may shortly call them; it must turn itself with its opposite principles directly against their sensuous pictures and all else in them. The contradictions, the strife and enmity which have thus arisen belong to the external history of philosophy. But the collisions between philosophy and religion here get the length of hostility merely, and have not come to be that inner division of mind and feeling, such as we see in Christianity, where the two sides which come into contradiction get possession of the depth of the Spirit as their single and consequently common source, and in this position, bound together in their contradiction, are able to disturb this spot itself, the Spirit in its inmost nature. The expression “faith” is reserved for Christianity; we do not speak of Greek or Egyptian faith, or of a faith in Zeus or Apis. Faith expresses the inwardness of certainty, and certainty of the deepest and most concentrated kind, as distinguished from all other opinion, conception, persuasion, or volition. This inwardness, at once as being what is deepest and at the same time most abstract, comprises thought itself; a contradiction of this faith by thought is therefore the most painful of all divisions in the depths of the Spirit.

Yet such misery is happily, if we may so express ourselves, not the only form in which the relation of faith and knowledge is to be found. On the contrary, this relation presents itself in a peaceful form, in the conviction that revelation, faith, positive religion, and, on the other hand, reason and thought in general, must not be in contradiction, and not only that they may be in harmony, but also that God does not so contradict Himself in His works, cannot so contradict Himself, as that the human Spirit in its essence, in its thinking reason, in that which it must have come from the very first to regard as divine in itself, could get into conflict with what has come to it through greater enlightenment about the nature of God and Man’s relation to that nature. During the whole of the Middle Ages, theology was understood to mean nothing else than a scientific knowledge of Christian truths, that is to say, a knowledge essentially connected with philosophy. The Middle Ages were far enough away from taking the historical knowledge of faith for scientific knowledge; in the Fathers and in what may be reckoned generally as historical material, they sought only authorities, edification, and information on the doctrines of the Church. The opposite tendency is simply to search out the human origin of the articles of faith by the historical treatment of the older evidences and works of every kind, and in this way to reduce them to the minimum of their most primitive form. This form must be regarded as wholly unfruitful in deeper knowledge and development, because it is in contradiction with that Spirit, which, after the removal of that primitive form as something immediately present, had been poured out on the adherents of these doctrines, in order to lead them now, for the first time, into all truth. The tendency here described was unknown in these times. In the belief in the unity of this Spirit with itself, the whole of these doctrines, even those which are most abstruse for reason, are regarded from the point of view of thinking, and the attempt is made, in the case of all of these which are recognised as in themselves the content of belief, to prove them on rational grounds. The great theologian Anselm of Canterbury, whom we shall have to consider elsewhere, declares in this sense that, if we are firm in the faith, it is idleness, negligentiæ mihi esse videtur, not to know what we believe. In the Protestant Church it has in the same way come about that the rational knowledge of religious truths is cherished and held in honour in combination with theology or along with it. The point of interest was to see how far the natural light of reason, human reason by itself, could progress in the knowledge of the truth, with the important reservation that through religion Man can learn higher truths than reason is in a position to discover of itself.

Here we come upon two distinct spheres, and, to begin with, a peaceful relation between them is justified by means of the distinction that the teachings of positive religion are above but not against reason. This activity of thinking knowledge found itself stimulated and supported from without through the example which lay before its eyes in the pre-Christian, or, speaking generally, non-Christian religions. This showed that the human spirit, even when left to itself, has attained to deep insight into the nature of God, and with all its errors has arrived at great truths, even at fundamental truths, such as the existence of God and the purer idea, free from sensuous ingredients, of that existence, the immortality of the soul, providence, and such like. Thus positive doctrine and the rational knowledge of religious truths have been peacefully pursued alongside of one another. This position of reason in relation to dogma was, however, different from that confidence of reason which was first considered, which dared to approach the highest mysteries of doctrine, such as the Trinity, and the incarnation of Christ; whereas, on the contrary, the point of view referred to after the one just mentioned timidly confined itself to the business of merely venturing through the medium of thought to deal with what the Christian religion possesses in common with heathen and non-Christian religions in general, and what must therefore remain a part merely of what is abstract in religion. But when once we have become conscious of the difference of these two spheres, we must pronounce the relation of equality in which faith and reason are to be regarded as standing each alongside of the other, to be unintelligible, or else to be a misleading pretence. The tendency of thought to seek unity leads of necessity to the comparison of these spheres first of all, and then when they once pass for different, to the agreement of faith with itself alone, and of thought with itself alone, so that each sphere refuses to recognise the other and rejects it. It is one of the commonest self-deceptions of the Understanding to regard the element of difference, which is found in the one central point of Spirit, as though it must not necessarily advance to opposition and so to contradiction. The point at which the conflict on the part of Spirit begins has been reached as soon as what is concrete in Spirit has, by means of analysis, attained to the consciousness of difference. All that partakes of Spirit is concrete; in this we have before us the Spiritual in its most profound aspect, that of Spirit as the concrete element of faith and thought. The two are not only mixed up in the most manifold way, in immediate passing over from one side to the other, but are so inwardly bound up together that there is no faith which does not contain within itself reflection, argumentation, or, in fact, thought, and, on the other hand, no thinking which does not, even if it be only for the moment, contain faith,—for faith in general is the form of any presupposition, of any assumption, come whence it may, which lies firmly at the foundation—momentary faith. This means that even in free thinking that which now exists as a presupposition, is a comprehended result, thought out either before or after, but in this transformation of the presupposition into a result, again has a side which is a presupposition, an assumption or unconscious immediacy of the activity of the Spirit.

Yet the explanation of the nature of free self-conscious thought we must here leave on one side, and rather remark that for the attainment of this essentially and actually existent union of faith and thought a long time has been necessary—more than fifteen hundred years—and that it has cost the most severe toil to reach the point at which thought has escaped from its absorption in faith, and attained to the abstract consciousness of its freedom, and thereby of its independence and its complete self-sufficiency, in the light of which nothing can have validity for thought which has not come before its judgment-seat, and been then justified as admissible. Thought thus taking its stand upon the extreme point of its freedom—and it is only completely free in this extreme point—and rejecting authority and faith in general, has driven faith in like manner to take its stand in an abstract fashion upon itself, and to attempt entirely to free itself from thought. At all events, it has arrived at the point of declaring itself to be freed from and not to require thought. Wrapped up in unconsciousness of the at all events small amount of thought which must remain to it, it goes on to declare thought to be incapable of reaching truth and destructive of it, so that thought is capable of comprehending one thing only, its incapacity to grasp the truth and see into it, and of proving to itself its own nothingness, with the result that suicide is its highest vocation. So completely has the relation in the view of the time been reversed, that faith has now become exalted as immediate knowledge in opposition to thought, as the only means of attaining to the truth, just as formerly, on the other hand, only that could give peace to Man of which he could become conscious as truth through proof by thought.

This standpoint of opposition cannot better show how important and far-reaching it is than when it is considered in relation to the subject which we have set ourselves to discuss, the knowledge of God. In the working out into opposition of the difference between faith and thought, it is immediately apparent that they have reached formal extremes in which abstraction is made from all content, so that in the first instance they are no longer opposed as concretely defined religious faith and thought about religious subjects, but abstractly, as faith in general, and as thought in general, or knowledge, in so far as this last does not yield merely forms of thought, but gives us a content in and with its truth. From this point of view the knowledge of God is made dependent on the question as to the nature of knowledge in general, and before we can pass to the investigation of the concrete it seems necessary to ascertain whether the consciousness of what is true can and must be thinking knowledge, or, faith. Our proposed consideration of the knowledge of the existence of God thus changed into this general consideration of knowledge, just as the new philosophical epoch has made it the beginning and foundation of all philosophical speculation that the nature of knowledge itself is to be examined before the actual, i.e., concrete knowledge of an object. We thus incurred the danger—a danger, however, necessary in the interests of thoroughness—of having to trace the subject further back than the time at our disposal for carrying out the aim of these lectures would permit of our doing. If, however, we look more closely at the demand which appears to have met us, it becomes perfectly plain that it is only the subject that has changed with it, not the thing. In both cases, either if we admitted the demand for that inquiry, or stuck directly to our theme, we should have to know, and in that case we should have a subject, too, in the shape of knowledge itself. And as in doing so we should not have emerged from the activity of knowledge, from real knowledge, there is nothing to hinder our leaving the other subject which it is not our aim to consider, alone, and thus stick to our own subject. It will further appear, as we follow out our purpose, that the knowledge of our subject will also in itself justify itself as knowledge. That in true and real knowledge the justification of knowledge will and must lie, might admittedly be said in advance, for to say so is simply a tautology, just as we may know in advance that the desired way round, the desiring to know knowledge before actual knowledge, is superfluous just because it is inherently absurd. If under the process of knowledge we figure to ourselves an external operation in which it is brought into a merely mechanical relation with an object, that is to say, remains outside it, and is only externally applied to it, knowledge is presented in such a relation as a particular thing for itself, so that it may well be that its forms have nothing in common with the qualities of the object; and thus when it concerns itself with an object, it remains only in its own forms, and does not reach the essential qualities of the object, that is to say, does not become real knowledge of it. In such a relation knowledge is determined as finite, and as of the finite; in its object there remains something essentially inner, whose notion is thus unattainable by and foreign to knowledge, which finds here its limit and its end, and is on that account limited and finite. But to take such a relation as the only one, or as final or absolute, is a purely made-up and unjustifiable assumption of the Understanding. Real knowledge, inasmuch as it does not remain outside the object, but in point of fact occupies itself with it, must be immanent in the object, the proper movement of its nature, only expressed in the form of thought and taken up into consciousness.

We have now provisionally indicated those standpoints of culture which in the case of such material as we have before us ought in the present day to be taken into account. It is pre-eminently, or, properly speaking, only here that it is self-evident that the proposition already laid down, according to which the consideration of knowledge is not different from the consideration of its object, must hold good without limitation. I will therefore at once indicate the general sense in which the proposed theme, the proofs of the existence of God, is taken, and which will be shown to be the true one. It is that they ought to comprise the elevation of the human spirit to God, and express it for thought, just as the elevation itself is an elevation of thought and into the kingdom of thought.

And to begin with, as regards knowledge, Man is essentially consciousness, and thus what is felt, the content, the determinateness which a feeling or sensation has, is also in consciousness as something presented in the form of an idea. That in virtue of which feeling is religious feeling, is the divine content; it is therefore essentially something of which we have knowledge. But this content is in its essence no sensuous perception or sensuous idea; it does not exist for imagination, but only for thought; God is Spirit, only for Spirit, and only for pure Spirit, that is, for thought. This is the root of such a content, even though imagination and even sense-perception may afterwards accompany it, and this content itself may enter into feeling. It is the elevation of the thinking Spirit to that which is the highest thought, to God, that we thus wish to consider.

This elevation is besides essentially rooted in the nature of our mind. It is necessary to it, and it is this necessity that we have before us in this elevation, and the setting forth of this necessity itself is nothing else than what we call proof. Therefore we have not to prove this elevation from the outside; it proves itself in itself, and this means nothing else than that it is by its very nature necessary. We have only to look to its own process, and we have there, since it is necessary in itself, the necessity, insight into the nature of which has to be vouched for by proof.